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Friday, 18 September 1987
Page: 328

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Small Business)(11.36) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill makes a number of rather minor amendments to the Patents Act 1952. Most of them are to set up procedures for handling patent applications which relate to nuclear technology. The procedures are needed to ensure compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987-the Safeguards Act-which was passed earlier this year. The new procedures introduced by the Bill relate to patent applications which contain information of a kind referred to in the definition of associated technology in the Safeguards Act. The Safeguards Act provides that associated technology is not to be possessed or communicated without the relevant permit or authority from the Australian Safeguards Office. Under the Safeguards Act, associated technology means a document containing information that is primarily applicable to enrichment of nuclear material, reprocessing of irradiated nuclear material, production of heavy water or nuclear weapons, or nuclear information that is covered by an international agreement and is declared by the Minister to be information for the purposes of this definition. A document is defined to include a photograph, model or other thing from which the information may be obtained. Information publicly available is excluded from the definition.

Clause 4 of the Bill provides for the Commissioner of Patents to refer a specification which appears to contain this kind of information to the Director of Safeguards. If the Director is satisfied that the specification does indeed contain information of the defined type, the Director can send a certificate to that effect to the Commissioner. The Safeguards Office will also check whether the necessary permit and authority to possess and communicate the information had been given. In a case where it emerges that they had not been given, the Director's certificate can include a direction that the patent application is to lapse. The Bill also enables the Commissioner, on the basis of the Director's advice, to take appropriate steps to prohibit or restrict publication of the information contained in a specification. There is provision in clause 4 for restoration of a lapsed application where the applicant's default is subsequently rectified by obtaining the necessary permit and authority. Clause 9 makes various provisions for aggrieved applicants to apply for review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of a decision of the Director or Commissioner. Clause 2 imposes an obligation on Safeguards Office staff to observe the usual confidentiality requirements of the Patents Act.

The system set up by the Bill is not particularly complex. The reason its wording runs for a few pages is that the new procedures have to mesh into the provisions of the Patents Act, ensuring particularly that decisions affecting people's rights are taken in a fair and open manner. The number of patent applications which will be affected by the Bill is expected to be small, and the procedures will be handled within existing resources of the Patent Office. Clause 3 makes an amendment consequential on clause 4. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the Bill make minor amendments to the Patents Act which are explained in the explanatory memorandum. Clause 7 corrects a drafting error which recently came to light.

The Bill is not momentous, but it sets in place necessary procedures to ensure that the Safeguards Act and the Patents Act operate in a complementary and harmonious fashion. I commend this Bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Miles) adjourned.